Karl Denson spent more than a decade at the top of the jazz-funk-jam heap, and his band Tiny Universe became legendary for non-stop funk frenzies that tested the limits of time and space. On Brother’s Keeper, it’s clear that he’s trying for more sophistication, continuing to focus on his own vocal stylings while offering new songs with a touch of mass appeal. Denson’s craggy voice and the band’s stalwart wall of funk are intact, but his measured attempt to bring the music to a wider audience stops the party in its tracks. Unfortunately, there’s a stylistic tug-of-war that ensues on this album, and the conflict never resolves itself. On one side, there’s the immeasurable instrumental talent of Denson and his band, which includes longtime cohorts Chris Littlefield (trumpet), Ron Johnson (bass), and Brian Jordon (guitar). They’re allowed plenty of room, especially on the title track. But the song structure and slick production tug against the band’s desire to burn down the studio with fiery solos and hammering funk grooves, and some of the songs leave a lot to be desired lyrically (and I’m being nice there – I laughed out loud at some of the lyrics). Even the album cover seems like a less than graceful attempt to shoehorn Denson into the adult contempo/R&B market. With several numbers on the verge of R&B cheese and few memorable highlights, you might want to keep this album away from your ears.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10